COVID-Friendly Winter Activities in BC
When the weather starts to get colder and people want to hibernate until spring, British Columbians know this is their moment. BC is perfect in every season, but with a plethora of mountain resorts, world-class powder, and so many ways to access the outdoors, this is one season that invokes jealousy from people anywhere in the world.
If stunning mountain landscapes and fluffy powder aren't for you, BC also boasts a temperate coastal climate that rarely drops below freezing. And if that fails too, there are always some heated patios and socially distanced indoor activities to keep you entertained all winter long.
CAUTION: Winter temperatures and snow can bring an abundance of dangers when recreating in the mountains. From frostbite and hypothermia to avalanches, be sure to do your research, bring appropriate gear and clothing, and check the avalanche and weather forecasts if you choose to spend time in the mountains.
1. Hit the slopes on some skis or a snowboard
Let's get the most obvious one over with first. If for some reason this wasn't the first winter activity that came to mind, BC is home to dozens of ski resorts so it is unlikely you will ever be more than a couple of hours to a ski hill. Prices vary from as high as $199 per day at Whistler to much cheaper once you head north and east a bit. While they may not have the big name, you will lose the crowds and the crazy expensive hotel & dining prices if you venture a little further away from the city.
2. Strap on your snowshoes and find some powder
While technically no powdery snow is needed, snowshoeing is typically intended for when there is deep snow that you need to float on top of. Microspikes can be used instead when the trail is well packed or icy (I usually pack both).
There are so many great snowshoe trails around Vancouver, from absolute beginner to expert level that requires mountaineering skills, there is something for everyone within just a couple hours of the city. For a list of trails near Vancouver, check out this post.
3. Find a heated patio for a hot drink, a meal, or a festive cocktail
More and more heated patios have popped up due to the need for more space from reduced capacity. We all love a good summer patio beer, but heated patios in the winter are a real treat! You can people watch from your warm, cozy table sipping something delicious that your bartended concocted, or pair a smooth merlot with that charcuterie board that caught your eye at the table next to you.
4. Lace up your skates at an outdoor skating rink
One of the quintessential Canadian winter activities! I remember taking skating lessons as a kid and going to the skating rink all the time as a teenager. Since then, I have been maybe twice! There are several outdoor skating rinks around Metro Vancouver, and plenty of frozen lakes and ponds once you get away from the coast that people clear off to skate on all winter long (as long as the cold temperatures allow). Most rinks have rentals for just a few dollars, and most towns with skating on lakes nearby do have rental shops around, like Inside Edge in Invermere. Lake Windermere Whiteway in the Columbia Valley is the longest skating trail in the world, and it is a ton of fun.
5. Have some youthful fun at the tube park
Most ski resorts have plenty of other fun activities other than skiing - my favourite as a kid was the tube park! Most of them have a cable system to pull you back up the hill so you don't get as tired running up the hill like you would on a toboggan, which makes for hours of fun! Check your local ski resort for details, but for those in Vancouver, you can check out Mt Seymour resort which is the closest option to the city. I always loved the tube park at Mount Washington (on Vancouver Island) too!
6. Cross country ski through a winter wonderland
For those that have never cross country skied before, let me tell you: its not as easy as it looks! Going straight on flat ground is one thing, but just wait until you are coming down a hill and you have to go around a corner. That being said, once you get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun (and a great workout). Many resorts around BC have cross country ski tracks and offer rentals, plus many more ski clubs maintain tracks in other areas that are often "by donation" or available for a small fee, and sometimes you can even find them for free!
7. Get your adrenaline pumping on a snowmobile
One of the pricier options on the list, but boy, it is fun! I have only been once and my wallet wouldn't be impressed if I started going multiple times a year, but that is how much I want to do it. You can access some truly spectacular areas that you probably wouldn't get to on snowshoes. I went on a three hour "Wilderness Tour" with Blackcomb Snowmobile and had the best time! I do recommend going on a guided tour unless you are very familiar with snowmobiling because there are many dangers you may not consider without a guide - plus a guide will get you to the best places!
8. Try out fat biking
Fat biking is perfect for snowy trails and getting out to explore in the winter. The only thing that is different about these bikes is that the tires are really wide so that you have a greater surface area when the ground isn't solid. They can be used for sand, mud, and of course, snow!
A bunch of towns and resorts all over BC have fat bikes available to rent, plus there are many groomed trails to try them out on. Try it out and you never know, you may decide to invest in a new bike get get around during those long, cold, BC winters!
9. Explore your local museum or art gallery
Depending on the attraction, many of these galleries and museums you will find relatively empty in the winter due to a lower number of tourists. On top of that, most of them have reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, making it a great time to visit somewhere you haven't been or haven'e been in a while. The Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the most popular places for Vancouverites, but as long as there isn't a super popular exhibition on, you will find it fairly quiet inside if you visit on an evening or weekday.
10. Plan the perfect food truck tour
While you can technically go on a "food hopping tour" of a series of standard restaurants, to limit indoor interactions, why not try stopping by a few of your local food trucks? Many of them remain open through the winter and you will certainly find them much less busy than in the summer!
11. Go coastal and find a break from the cold and snow
Generally you will find that the further southeast you go in winter, the milder weather you will get. That doesn't mean that the weather will be "good" or "warm" by any means - you will likely have temperatures above zero but you will also find more rainy days than sun on average. Southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Sunshine Coast are often where the mildest winter temperatures can be found.
While summer can bring high prices and big crowds, winter is arguably one of the most exciting times to visit Tofino. The best time for storm watching in Tofino is between October and March. The immensity and drama of the waves and stormy skies is something that every BC native should experience - even if you spend the whole time curled up in a cozy nook of your waterfront rental.
Often true to its name, the Sunshine Coast is another great place to escape the cold weather while still having access to snowy mountains when you want them. Filled with affordable vacation rentals and B&Bs as well as craft breweries, bakeries, and all kinds of hidden gems, winter is a great time to visit the Sunshine Coast.
12. Sip your way through local wineries, cideries, and breweries
This has got to be one of my favourite things to do when exploring a new place, but you don't need to go far to find somewhere new that has popped up! On a route I have driven hundreds of times in the past five years, all of a sudden I saw a new "Lake Bottom Cider" sign along the road. What was I supposed to do, but pop a u-turn and follow the arrow?! I was invited in for a tasting and while I didn't want to partake in a whole pint, I discovered their delightful outdoor space and took a few bottles home and a few more for my sister. I love driving around the Fraser Valley, because these places pop up all time time when I am taking a new route somewhere, and I just have to see what they have to offer. BC is home to A TON of wineries, cideries, and craft breweries, so you will never be far from amazing, local beverages. Add in a local cheese makers (Salt Spring Island, I am looking at you) and a year-round farm stand, and you are in for a real culinary treat!
13. Take a dip in a not-so-secret hot spring
There are very few "secret" hot springs left in BC, and those that are usually require a long drive on a forest service road (not great in winter and without 4WD) or a snowmobile, so why not check out some of the more established and easier to access hot springs like Radium Hot Springs, Ainsworth Hot Springs, Hot Springs Cove, or Harrison Hot Springs? That being said, if you know about some secret ones and can get to them in the winter, by all means, do it! There are so many resources online about lesser known and harder to get to hot springs, a little digging goes a long way.
14. Show your BC pride at a winter outdoor festival
While the word "festival" is a bit of a trigger nowadays, an outdoor festival with the right safety measures can be a lovely way to spend a weekend. There are quite a few still planned for winter 2022, like the Rossland Winter Carnival (January), High on Ice Winter Festival (Fort St. John, February), Vernon Winter Carnival (February), and the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run (Quesnel-Barkerville, February).
Of course, there are many more things that are not listed here, and some of that was intentional. With COVID spreading like crazy, I have avoided most indoor activities with the biggest risks. Despite many of these listed activities being open and you being able to visit, it does not mean there is no risk. If you choose to do any of them, please be safe and adhere to all safety measures put in place by staff and health authorities.